Understanding Casop: A Requiem for Rice

fieldworkchild.markedMany of you may have noticed, Requiem for Rice came to a crossroads in 2017.  When we started the project in 2015, the Creative Team envisioned Requiem for Rice as simultaneously a modern take on a classic requiem—in the spirit of Verdi, Mozart, Faure, and Britten—that mourns the souls of the enslaved who died on Lowcountry rice plantations, their bodies unburied, their suffering unmourned, and their sacrifices unmarked for future generations.  As Trevor began to compose, I completed the first draft of the libretto, and we began collaboration on arranging the lyrics, we began to feel as if something was missing. The requiem genre from the European classical music tradition provided a vehicle for the piece to lament and mourn the sacrifices and sufferings of Africans enslaved on Lowcountry rice plantations; but, it left no room to protest the injustices of enslavement, exploitation, and terror, a commercial agricultural system built on the backs of people stolen from West Africa’s Upper Guinea Coast, African genius, African bodies, African labor, African tears.  We thought, there had to be a RECKONING before the REQUIEM.  Casop: A Requiem for Rice was born.

CASOP is pronounced kəsəp; both the “a” and “o” in casop are pronounced like the initial “a” in “cassava” or the “u” in “custard.”

Casop is a funerary tradition among the Diola-Fogny, quintessential rice farmers along the Casamance River of present-day Senegal.  In the event of untimely, accidental, and suspicious deaths, Diola-Fogny ritual specialists performed casop, a “ritual interrogation of the corpse” via spirit possession.  During the funeral, the deceased was asked to tell his or her story about the circumstances of death.  Once the truth was revealed, the dead would be buried and harmony and peace restored to the community.

In Casop: A Requiem for Rice, tens of thousands enslaved laborers on the Lowcountry’s rice plantations and 12 million Africans who endured the Middle Passage, many of whom died untimely, accidental, and suspicious deaths, will speak.  Once the dead have told their story, the lamentation will turn to celebration of the critical role enslaved Africans’ ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South, laying to rest once and for all, the shackles of shame, blame, guilt, and denial that pervade this painful period in our nation’s history.  Casop: A Requiem for Rice reclaims African and African-American history and fosters reconciliation.  

A true marriage between West African and European classical traditions, Casop: A Requiem for Rice is an African-American inspired take on a classic requiem.  By telling the stories of Africans enslaved on Lowcountry rice plantations, Casop becomes a new genre, the vehicle through which oppressed and voiceless peoples from around the world can tell their stories, mourn their dead, and celebrate their contributions to the world.

The Box office opens July 15th for the September 21, 2018 “Casop: A Requiem for Rice” Choral Performance and September 22 Colour of Music Festival’s “Casop: A Requiem for Rice” Black Classical Renaissance Benefit Performance. For tickets, visit requiemforrice.com

With your support, we can tell this important story!

Edda L. Fields-Black, Ph. D., Executive Producer & Librettist
Trevor Weston, Ph. D., Composer
Julie Dash, Filmmaker
David Claessen, Cinematographer

All ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and individual gifts will benefit the development of “Casop: A Requiem for Rice.”  For more information about corporate sponsorships and individual gifts, please contact Adam Causgrove, Associate Director of Corporate Relations, Carnegie Mellon University, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, (causegrove@cmu.edu; 814-397-6388).

Author: Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black

Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black is an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History. Her research specialties are pre-colonial and West African history and their connections to the African Diaspora. Fields-Black has written extensively about rice farmers in early modern West Africa, as well as Africans enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations. Fields-Black is currently writing an epic history of the Gullah Geechee from their Western African origins to the publication of Lorenzo Dow Turner's study of the Gullah Geechee language